The Extra Large Medium
by Helen Slavin
Once upon a time there was a very great storyteller. His tales were simple and original: he used no padding, flummery or "style". And yet his stories have never been forgotten. But he was under no illusion: he likened his narrative to the mustard seed, the success or failure of which relies upon the ground on which it falls. Only if the earth is fertile and alive, open to the sun and the rain, will the seed eventually bring its flavour to the pot-boiler that is everyday life. And so it has always been and will always be. With every story that was ever told, its success has depended as much upon the listener, or, more often nowadays, the reader, as it has upon the storyteller.
Judging from her novel, Helen Slavin would be the last person to presume to be considered either holy or a genius, but the success of her book depends more than usually upon her readers.
THE EXTRA LARGE MEDIUM is highly imaginative. It is about a child (Annie) born with the "gift" of being able to "hear dead people whingeing on", usually about some unfinished business such as a squabble over a will or some unresolved family riddle: the whereabouts of a missing cat or spouse, or who should have the Crown Derby. "If your Aunt Mildred was a sour old bat when she was alive the addition of harp lessons and being allocated a cloud is not going to turn her into a philosopher". And once they have found Annie, the dead use her mercilessly as their messenger to friends and family members still alive. In her own words, "I exist as a kind of customer service department, running a stream of errands just to keep these people quiet". And try as she might to be very ordinary indeed herself, her own life becomes hopelessly and rather sadly complicated.
The story is, of course, about how she lives with it, and how other people react to her. But the success of the book, that is how much flavour it will bring to ones life, will depend on its reader's fertile imagination, empathy and humour. This novel is a gift to each reader, a greetings card, a very personal message from Helen Slavin: a commentary on life and death and how each of us deals with it. It is an invitation to a rather disreputable party, where, however uncertain one feels about the company, one cannot help but laugh.
Downs Book Group, Brighton